- The Washington Times - Friday, August 24, 2001

BOGOTA, Colombia — Carlos Castano, leader of the outlawed rightist "paramilitary" United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), said in an interview his organization does not deserve an expected U.S. condemnation as a terrorist group.
In an interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Castano rejected recent comments by U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Anne Patterson, who said it was likely that the AUC will be put in the top category of the State Department's list of international terrorist groups.
"In September, I believe [the AUC] are going to be put in the category of first degree on that list," said Mrs. Patterson, in an interview published this week in Semana, Colombia's largest newsmagazine.
Mr. Castano, who is still seen as the top leader of the AUC despite recently relinquishing the title of military commander for a political post, said the classification is unfair and does not fit.
The ambassador's comments "have caused enormous worry in the interior of our organization," said Mr. Castano via e-mail from an undisclosed location. "It also produces indignation, given our anti-subversive character, respectful of the Colombian state and of foreign citizens and investments. We have never harmed private or state interests of the international community in Colombia."
Designation as a terrorist group would expose the AUC to U.S. sanctions.
The State Department yesterday refused to say whether the AUC would be recategorized, saying it never announces such actions in advance.
Colombia's two largest Marxist guerrilla groups — the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and National Liberation Army (ELN) — are the AUC's bitter enemies in Colombia's long-running civil war.
Both the FARC and the ELN are already on the U.S. list of "foreign terrorist organizations."
Currently, the AUC is listed in a separate section of other terrorist groups that commit atrocities in their own countries, but have not attacked Americans.
While AUC has claimed responsibility for waves of massacres of people it suspects of being left-wing guerrillas or collaborators, the paramilitary group has not harmed U.S. citizens or property, said Mr. Castano.
Nor does it threaten U.S. national security, he said.
One reason for Mr. Castano's concern is that being blacklisted by the State Department can translate into concrete measures against the AUC.
"In the new category, no U.S. citizen can do business with them because it violates the law. It will be easier to control weapons, contraband and to freeze their bank accounts," Mrs. Patterson told the newsmagazine.
Human rights groups have backed a tougher U.S. stand against the AUC.
"The paramilitaries known as the AUC merit being on the list of groups that use terror to achieve their ends. Whether the victims are Americans or not is irrelevant," said Robin Kirk of Human Rights Watch.
But some Colombians fear that the U.S. government and human rights groups, in condemning all of Colombia's illegal armed movements, will lose sight of fundamental differences between the guerrillas and the AUC.
"There is a hypocrisy," said Eugenio Trujillo, executive director of the Bogota-based private advocacy group Tradicion y Accion. "The government negotiates with the FARC, but not with self-defense groups [like the AUC]. … Cornering the AUC can lead to a radicalization of the conflict."
Bruce Bagley, a Latin America specialist at the University of Miami, said the AUC has about 8,000 combatants and is growing.
"The AUC have become so strong that there is no alternative but for the Colombian government to open negotiations with them," he said.

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